Nocodemus is the Pharisee who braves the city at night and comes knocking at Jesus’ door. He holds a million questions. He has left his friends and colleagues behind for they do not share his wonder. He is alone feeling his way through the dark streets. Perhaps pressing along the stone walls and hoping for the right door? Does he rehearse the questions he will ask? Does Jesus expect him? Was it pre-arranged? This meeting between teachers–this meeting between strangers. He has a lot on his mind. So many questions. He asks, “What does it mean to be born again?”
You may not have that question exactly but you probably have questions about your faith, about the Bible and about who Jesus is. If you are a church that regularly recites a statement of faith, there are probably things in there you wonder about–like “the resurrection of the dead” What does it mean to believe in that? Would you ask your Pastor these questions? Would you be embarrassed? Do you think that if you go to church it means you know the answers to the questions about what it means to be a Christian, or theology or history or the Bible? Does it ever feel like there is more you don’t know than you know?
At Broadmoor Community Church in Colorado Springs, under “What we believe” on their webpage (broadmoorchurch.org) they say the following: While some of us were raised UCC, the majority of us were raised in other traditions: Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, evangelical, fundamentalist, even Jewish and Muslim. This makes for an interesting mix! All of us bring our questions, our doubts, our beliefs, our criticism, our willingness to both ask questions and lean into faith in order to make our lives, and the world, a better place.
What about your church community? Do you encourage your members to lean into their faith with all their questions and doubts? Jesus greets Nicodemus, the man with all the questions, and he answers him. It may be that the answers Jesus gives raise even more questions. But isn’t that what the faith journey is like for us all?
After the tongues of fire and the wind and the speaking in the languages of the whole inhabited world, Peter stands and says something about what they have witnessed and experienced. He speaks to the crowd in Jerusalem that had gathered to witness the commotion and he tells them that what they have seen is a foretaste, a vision of what the future holds–that both sons and daughters will prophecy and visions and dreams will be paramount. All this, he says quoting Isaiah, just as the return of the world to its true self will be made visible in the return of Jesus the Christ.
What does the future hold for the church of Jesus Christ? In the formation story of this institution we hold dear there is a suggestion that the future is potent and full of possibility and will be infused by great changes. That is exactly the purpose of the Strengthen the Church offering. Because of this offering the United Church of Christ has the means to help our churches reimagine themselves, think outside the box and create new worshiping Christian communities in places where the UCC has not been visible.
It’s a fund that supports burgeoning youth ministries helping them articulate and nurture their deep spiritual longing. All in all, this fund is the best way we have that supports a new vision for our churches and creates opportunities for growth.
What will happen to our churches that are shrinking in numbers? Will we disappear? Will our voice for hope and freedom and justice and a world of welcome be obliterated by a world of indifference and secularity poised against all religion? What message do we have about being human that is essential for the good of everything? What do we offer people living in a world of interconnectivity, and social media and fake news and hopelessness, and great economic disparity? What do we offer youths marginalized by race and gender identity? What do we offer all of us facing our fragile world and the deep changes that seem to overwhelm us? Gifts given to the Strengthen the Church offering will help us have that conversation and model new visions for who we might become as the United Church of Christ.
Excerpts from Franklin Graham’s June Update:
Reverend Franklin Graham reports that eight months after last September’s hurricanes, our neighbors in the Caribbean are still hurting. Parts of Puerto Rico remain in the dark with no power. Only a few hundred people have been able to return to the island of Barbuda. Countless houses are still waiting for rebuilt roofs and other repairs.
Samaritan’s Purse has teams deployed on four islands to repair or rebuild up to 3,000 houses and over 100 churches. This is one of the largest reconstruction projects the organization has ever attempted. Our helicopter remains busy delivering generators and essentials to corners of Puerto Rico that still lack power.
In one Puerto Rican community, Pastor Ramon Rodriguez requested a stove and refrigerator for a couple whose wooden house was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. The homeowner is a grandfather who said, “I have no money or no way to pay you.” Pastor Ramon responded, “You don’t have to pay me. This is a gift from people who are serving in the Name of Jesus. It’s Christ who loves you, and it’s Christ who is at work.”
Many of the churches have continued to worship faithfully every Sunday, even though their roofs are gone and they have no way to rebuild. On the island of St. Martin, Hurricane Irma destroyed the roof at the New Testament Bible Church. The pastor’s home was also destroyed. He and his family lived in the basement of the ruined sanctuary. He prayed for help, and on a Wednesday in mid-January, members gathered in the roofless sanctuary to pour out their hearts to God and to ask Him to supply their needs. In a matter of weeks Samaritan’s Purse crews came and were able to replace the church roof, enabling the congregation to once again gather for worship and resume their outreach programs in their city.
Thank you for your prayers for everyone in the Caribbean. Samaritan’s Purse will continue their work on the islands for months to come–as well as in Texas, where Samaritan’s Purse volunteers are busy helping up to 1,000 families get back into their homes which were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.
The 2018 Mission Project sponsored by the Board of Christian Education is Heifer International. Donations from January through April total $1223.18. Monthly birthday money helping to support this project is $521.95, and the Lenten offering boxes totaled $701.23.
Here is the list of donated animals thus far: flock of chickens $20.oo; honeybees $30.00; trio of rabbits $60.00; one llama $150.00; one heifer $500.00; sheep $120.00; goat $120.00; pig $120.00; ducks $20.00; tree seedlings $60.00. Our current project is to contribute enough money for a water buffalo which is $250.00.
Thanks to everyone for your generous support of this most worthwhile project.
St. John’s UCC begins its summer hours for Sunday School and Worship on Sunday, June 3. Adult Sunday School classes begin at 9:00 a.m., and Worship begins at 10:00 a.m. Children’s hour takes place during the worship service hour. The summer schedule remains in place through Labor Day Sunday, September 2, 2018.
All are welcome to participate in Sunday School and Worship at St. John’s UCC which is located at the corner of College Avenue and Jackson Street in Bluffton, Ohio.
St. John’s is on schedule to have shrubs and bushes removed and new plantings installed during early June. Therefore, we will not be asking for our usual Mother’s Day flowers this year. If you would like to make a contribution in honor/memory of your mother, please feel free to designate that money to help defray the cost of the landscaping.
On May 20, 2018, the Strengthen the Church offering will be collected at St. John’s UCC. The offering supports the expansion of ministry and growth of UCC local congregations and will help the UCC fulfill its commitment to creating a just world for all by investing in new ministries and practices which meet the emerging needs of local communities.
In 2017, support of UCC congregations made possible 12 awards totaling almost $350,000 through the *New and Renewing Spiritual Communities grant program. **The Adese Fellowship program launched its first class of 14 future church leaders; and there was the addition of 24 new faith communities to the UCC. This is in addition to the great ministry happening in our local conference.
*New and Renewing Spiritual Communities grants strengthen UCC congregations by providing funds to assist in community revitalization or support new churches. Grants are awarded each year to fund ministries that impact their communities toward a Just World for All.
**The Adese Fellowship is a 12-month program which maximizes the capacity of fellows to launch businesses that will help end system poverty. Participants engage in theological reflection and business development as they create enterprises that help their communities follow the way of Jesus and live into God’s economy.
If you missed making a contribution to Strengthen the Church on May 20, envelopes remain available for you to donate on Sunday, May 27.
You will notice that the food pantry shelves empty out quickly, especially after the third Saturday distribution takes place. Out of our abundance, we need to meet the needs of others. On a Sunday morning, open your cupboard door and pull out a can, box, jar of something and bring it in and place it on the table at the front of the sanctuary. (Please check expiration dates before bringing in items.) Thank you!
Centering Words for Sunday, May 27: Almighty and merciful God, in your infinite wisdom and love, you have opened the way for us to become your adopted children. We thank you and ask you to help us always to walk in your light. Call us daily so that we might serve you well. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Sunday, May 27–Trinity Sunday–Worship service, 10:30 a.m.; Pastor Carol’s message is titled “Dead Hearts and New Beginnings” based on John 3:1-17. Memorial Day armed forces personnel will also be honored. A coffee hour in Oppermann Hall takes place after the worship service.
Monday, May 28–Church office closed for Memorial Day
Tuesday, May 29–Ladies meet at LuLu’s, 9 a.m.; Our Daily Bread in Lima, Ohio, 10:30 a.m.; TOPS, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, May 30–Men meet at Arby’s, 8:30 a.m.
Thought for the Day: This will be a better world when the power of love replaces the love of power.
If you would like to volunteer for helping serve at Our Daily Bread soup kitchen in Lima on Tuesday, May 29, please sign up on the bulletin board in the sanctuary. Helpers are always welcome.